- Artifact Photographer
- Sam Smilovic
- Sam Smilovic (born Szija Falek (Sziku) Smilovic) is the son of Mordche Shmiel (Markus, b. 1885) and Chana Smilovic (b. 1886). Sziku was born on February 8, 1928 in Mukachevo where his parents owned a tavern and grocery store. Shiku had ten older siblings , Ruchel (Rose), Feige (Cilke, later Anzc), Eizik Leib (Leo, Polda) 1914, Golde (b. 1916, later Berkovic), Sheindel (b. 1918. later Shari Memelstein), Heddy (b. 1920, later Spitz), Rivszu (b. 1922, Regina, later Rita Weiss), Freidl (b. 1924, Florcza, later Meislik), and Bernard (Berry, Issacher Berl b. 1926) and a younger sister Eva (b. 1930). The family was very religious and Mordchei Shmuel headed several communal charitable groups. Their life centered on their small congregation, the Zedichov shteibel. Sziku received a religious education attending both cheder and yeshiva.
In 1938 Hungary occupied Transcarpathia and instituted several antisemitic ordinances. Sziku's older brother Leo was conscripted for forced labor, and his father was prohibited from selling alcohol. Still conditions were much better than in Nazi occupied Poland. One day, Sziku's young cousin arrived at their home, having escaped a killing action in Kamenets-Podolsk in which his entire immediate family had been murdered. He lived for the next two years in Munkacz only to be killed in Auschwitz in 1944, at the age of 12. Sziku's father now ran a soup kitchen for Polish Jews escaping over the frontier. This was illegal according to the Hungarian law. One Saturday, he and brother-in-law Jeno Weiss were arrested for helping Polish Jews. Mordche Shmiel was interrogated for 10 days and then sentenced to 18 months of jail. He was brought to prison in Budapest where his oldest daughter Rose managed to visit him. One day she met an officer who remembered her from Munkacz. He secured Mordchei Shmuels’s release, and Shiku’s father returned home. While he was gone his wife attended to the business. Remarkably, at the the turn of the century, she had attended two years of business school in NYC in the United States prior to her marriage.
IIn March 1944, Germans invade Hungary and shortly afterwards established a ghetto. One day the mother of his rabbi asked him to bury her heirloom silver for safe keeping. Sziku then took her Sabbath candlesticks and wine cups and buried them beneath a tree. Shortly afterwards on May 15, the SS surrounded the ghetto, brutalized the inhabitants and forcefully brought everyone to a brick factory. One week later they deported the community to Auschwitz. When they arrived, prisoners working on the ramp told Sheindel and Golde to give their little boys to their mother, Chane. Chane took Sheindel’s son, but Golde’s son ran back to her. Chane Smilovic, Sheindel’s son, Golde and her son and Eva (Sziku’s youngest sister) all were gassed immediately upon arrival. When Sziku went through the selection he pretended he was 17. He, Bernard and their father were selected for slave labour. Berl, a trained auto mechanic, was transferred elsewhere, and Sziku remained with his father. After a couple of weeks, they were deported to Buchenwald which was luxurious compared to Auschwitz. They were given numbers to memorize as their names. Sziku was No. 56466. They received larger rations, and the staff, primarily political prisoners, was less brutal. However after three weeks, they were taken back onto cattle cars and sent to Zeitz, near Leipzig, to clean up bomb damage. Initially, the town’s civilians took pity and gave them fruit and bread, but soon the SS intervened to prevent further contact. They also made the working conditions increasingly difficult and painful and cut the food rations in half. Many of the prisoners became infirm. The SS then announced that those who were not healthy would be returned to Buchenwald. Mordchei Shmuel joined the group leaving the work camp, and Sziku was convinced he would never see his father again. Two weeks later Sziku was brought to another work site to dismantle an unexploded bomb. They were joined by a new group of prisoners sent from Buchenwald, among them Joseph Spitz, a close friend of the Smilovic family. He reported that he saw Mordchei Shmuel recently in Buchenwald and that he was in good health. Sziku continued to perform heavy labour and one day a steel column fell on him partially severing his finger. Sziku received medical attention and a pass to remain in the barrack only performing light work. When he was partially recovered, an SS man found him, accused him of being a slacker and assigned him to a punishment command to perform heavier work. Sziku collapsed under the strain. The following day, Allied planes bombed the site; the prisoners hid in a quarry during the bombing. After two days, they were sent back to the factory to clean up from the bombing. Meanwhile, they became weaker and sicker from fumes and malnutrition; only about half of the prisoners were capable of working. The SS decided to return the sickest among them to Buchenwald. Though he failed the health inspection, he snuck into the group to return to the camp. After arriving in Buchenwald he immediately reunited with his father, though they were in separate barracks. Sziku was assigned to a hospital tent where he befriended the Czech doctor in charge. He told the doctor that he was the non-Jewish son of a Czech communist, and the doctor promised to help him. When the other prisoners were sent out and killed, Sziku remained in the hospital to recover his health. From there he was transferred to Block 8, a children’s block under the protection of another Czech political prisoner. At first Sziku continued to hide his Jewish identity until the anti-Semitic action of a Polish prisoner so outraged him that he confessed his true identity. One day in January 1945 Sziku visited his father who told him not to let world forget what happened to them. The next day, his father was taken to an unknown destination never to be seen again. During the final months of the war, new transports kept arriving in Buchenwald. The crematorium operated around the clock, but still piles of corpses accumulated throughout the camp. The SS planned to evacuate Jewish prisoners who desperately traded their yellow badges for red ones indicating they were political prisoners of different nationalities. In Block 8 all the children were given Czech badges. On April 11 Russian POWs entered children’s Block 8 and removed weapons they had hidden underneath a trap door. A firefight broke out between them and German guards, and that afternoon, American tanks enter the camp.
Following liberation Sziku needed to decide what to do next. He either could accompany other child survivors to France or accept a Russian offer to return to Czechoslovakia. After finding his best friend from Munkacz, Jankel (Jack) Reiss, the two boys decided to return home in the hope of finding surviving relatives. They left for Prague on May 18. When they arrived in Czechoslovakia, someone called to him by his last name and told him that his brother Leo had survived as one of the most highly decorated Czech partisans. With this good news, he went first to a sanitarium and then to the gathering place for Czech survivors where he found his sister Rivcsu. She, Shari, Heddy and Freidl and a cousin all escaped from a death march and had successfully pretended to be Ukrainian peasants. Freidy and Shari had already returned to Munkacz. A few days later, he learned that his sister Feige had survived in Theresienstadt. Next learn that sister Ruchel (Rose), her husband and children also survived in Budapest through help of Raoul Wallenberg. However friend Jack could not find any surviving relatives. In August, Sziku and Jack returned to Munkacz where he found all of the heirloom silver that he had hidden for his rabbi’s wife. Jack also found everything he had hidden. After returning to Prague, they learned of an orphan’s transport to England. However, after Jack failed his physical examination, Sziku decided to remain in Czechoslovakia rather than abandon his friend. The two decided instead to go to Israel. They took a train to Germany and joined the Bnei Akiva Kibbutz in Foehrenwald. Find other friends there. Someone there mistook Sziku for his brother Berry who he had last seen after the liberation of Mauthausen. However, to this day Sziku never learned what happened to his brother and whether or not he died soon after liberation. At some point the boys changed their minds and decided to go to North America instead of Israel. They registered for a new transport to the States at the American consulate, but when the list was posted, Jack’s name was listed but not Sziku’s. Jack immigrated to America while Sziku needed to wait for the next transport. Only children under the age of 18 were eligible, and Sziku was already 17. He therefore took up an offer to go to Canada in January 1948. As the oldest member of the transport he helped organize the logistics. The job became more taxing after they arrived at the port to discover there were no preparations for the children owing to a labor strike. Shiku settled in Toronto where he married and had three children.